Soundlabel

By inserting nuts, bolts, erasers and sheets of paper between the strings of the piano, American avant-gardener John Cage created a new industrial sound world. ‘Prepared piano’ is still spoken of in reverent whispers in classical circles, and several companies have released libraries based on Cage’s carefully documented procedures. Soundlabel take the idea much further in Piano Attack, but there’s nothing reverent about their approach! Despite the brutal imagery and violent (though clearly tongue-in-cheek) language that accompanies the library, it contains some fabulous other-worldly sounds and textures. Some are so heavily processed as to be unrecognisable, but that’s no bad thing. The processing is skilful and creative, and gives the library a contemporary edge you can’t get from a collection of purely acoustic piano noises. The 1.2 GB of samples were made by playing, brushing, bashing and scraping the piano strings and soundboard with fingers, plectra, percussion mallets, household implements and tools (including vicious-looking pliers and saws), thus bypassing the keys completely. The ‘Atmospheres’ section has plenty to offer film composers: ‘Frictionscape 3’ and ‘Ghost Wind Ambience’ are spooky, evolving soundscapes, and the scary ‘Haunted Piano’ sounds like Norman Bates rummaging around the piano’s bass strings. Based on a tranquil, sustained major 6/9 chord, the delightful ‘Morphazzo’ reminded me of the new-world atmospheres on BT’s Twisted Textures. Some multisampled patches can be layered with other keyboard sounds to interesting effect: the beautiful ‘Fade-In Piano Dream’ uses Kontakt 2’s MIDI scripting facility to produce a series of rising octave intervals, and sounds astonishing when combined with strings. But Piano Attack tends to avoid conventional pitched samples, concentrating on atmospheric noises and effects: for example ‘8 String Resonatorz 2’, a collection of eight evolving, drone-like samples, rumbles and jangles as if in some huge underground cavern, and the sounds are given extra resonance by Kontakt 2’s convolution effect. As the name suggests, this library contains many unsettling impact noises, including a large, random array of percussive knocks and bangs. Coupled with fast string sweeps, these short, staccato hits have great potential for creating unusual rhythm patterns. To prove the point, there’s also a collection of pre-programmed rhythm loops. Arranged in 16 graded-tempi programs with half and double-speed variations, the loops play bang in time and though many of them sound bonkers in isolation, the right combination of two or three can produce a terrific groove. Enormous fun, and an unexpected bonus from this unpredictable, sacrilegious and wildly inventive library. Dave Stewart Sound on Sound www.soundonsound.com